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"Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School"

Directed by Randall Miller.
Written by Randall Miller and Jody Savin.  Based on the 1990 short film by Randall Miller.
Starring Robert Carlyle, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman and Mary Steenburgen.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  3/29/06


Thanks to another freebie with the DC Film Society, I went to check out a film from the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, "Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing & Charm School."  Where I could imagine a short film of the main part of this story being quite good, the version that is three times as long isn't nearly as engaging for long stretches and is clearly a victim of someone believing there was more to this business than there really is.

I say that because the crux of the story lies with Frank (Robert Carlyle), a bread baker that comes upon a car accident in the middle of nowhere.  The man who was driving that now-wrecked vehicle, Steve (John Goodman), is clearly dying as a result of his wounds, but in an effort to keep him conscious until paramedics arrive, Frank asks Steve just what the hell he was doing driving so fast on the highway...and, as it turns out, Steve was trying to meet someone at a dance program that he had attended as a child almost 40 years ago.  A reunion, of sorts...but now, Steve will not be making it, so he recommends the class to Frank and asks Frank to try and track down the woman he lost touch with so many years ago.

The dance sequences--featuring a large cast of recognizable faces trying their hand at the lindy hop, the box step and the meringue in a class setting--are funny, and just the acting during those sequences were enough to make the film interesting.  But, writer/director Randall Miller, basing this film on the short film he did back in '90 of the same name, gets us too caught up with flashbacks to Steve's life as a kid, Frank's dull routine following the death of his wife and the Frank/Steve interaction as we watch Steve slowly fade to black.  These sequences off of the dance floor are strange--they are not well performed as drama, they are unnecessarily repetitive (we get that Frank is in pain from the loss of his wife, but it's the way we are presented this pain that doesn't flow correctly) and they take the edge off of the dancing.  Save for a couple of scenes from Frank's support group featuring other men that have lost their wives, "Marilyn Hotchkiss'..." is almost complete shit when it doesn't feature Mary Steenburgen (as the dance instructor), Donnie Wahlberg and a host of others hamming it up doing the foxtrot.

Carlyle, looking like he is sleepwalking through this part, is a decent lead normally, but in giving us a dull Carlyle and a dull love interest played by Marisa Tomei, the blah factor is high and they are supposed to be carrying this thing!  There are a high number of B-listers in this flick--David Paymer, Camryn Mannheim, Sonia Braga, Ernie Hudson, and Adam Arkin, in addition to a surprise cameo at the end of the flick--so it seems like the script read better than it was performed or maybe presented, because in truth, the execution is a mixed bag.  There are many good laughs sprinkled throughout but each time we are getting on a roll, we get to watch Goodman do his best dying severely overweight bastard, mostly to ill effect.

Since this film was first released last winter and is just now going wide, I have the feeling that the studio was thinking the same thing that I was when I left the theater tonight.  Classic mixed bag but worth a catch in-between weekend shopping or eventually on DVD.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09